Carolyn Bertozzi, a Stanford professor and serial biotech founder, has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry along with two other scientists, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced Wednesday.
She shares her prize with Morten Meldal, of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and K. Barry Sharpless, a former Nobel prize winner from the Scripps Research Institute in California. Meldal and Sharpless pioneered the concept of “click chemistry,” an idea describing how molecular building blocks snap together in chemical reactions.
Bertozzi took their work one step further, developing “bioorthogonal” click reactions that work inside living cells and don’t disrupt the cell’s normal chemistry. Her approach is used globally to map out cells and track biological processes, the academy said, and is behind targeted cancer treatments now being developed.
Bertozzi has also made a name for herself within the biotech industry, co-founding at least seven companies within the past 12 years. According to an interview with C&EN, her entrepreneurial push came when one of her graduate students asked for guidance in launching a company. Since then, she has continued to help launch startups based on technologies coming out of her laboratory at Stanford. The biotechs share a common foundation built on her work mapping sugar molecules called glycans that are found on cell surfaces, C&EN wrote.
Bertozzi is the eighth woman to have won a Nobel prize in chemistry, following Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, who were awarded the prize in 2020 for their work developing CRISPR gene editing.
“I am absolutely stunned,” Bertozzi said in a press conference held by the academy. “I am sitting here and can hardly breathe.”